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UK fails to keep pace with climate change impacts

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 16 Jun 2021

Attempts to beef up the UK’s resilience to climate change are failing to keep pace with the impacts of global warming and ever-escalating climate risks, a report just published has concluded.

A comprehensive independent assessment led by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) considered a catalogue of risks and opportunities affecting every aspect of life in the UK, giving almost 60% of them the highest urgency score. While the changing climate creates some opportunities for the UK, these do not offset the risks and require early action to realise, the report says.

The Committee identifies eight risk areas that require the most urgent attention in the next two years. They include risks to the supply of food, goods and vital services due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks, risks to people and the economy from a climate-related failure of the power system and risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings.

The longer action to address these risks is delayed, the higher the costs the Government and the UK public will face. The 1,500-page report says increasing efforts to adapt to climate change are needed to ensure that societal, economic, and environmental goals remain achievable in the face of climate change.

Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said the severity of the risks we face must not be underestimated. “These risks will not disappear as the world moves to Net Zero; many of them are already locked in. By better understanding and preparing for the coming changes, the UK can prosper, protecting its people, its economy, and its natural environment. A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”

The assessment identifies a range of steps that will have a positive impact in the next five years if implemented on a wide scale. They include building design and retrofit, habitat creation and improved access to information on climate impacts. 

The report calls on government to deliver a much better action plan to support good adaptation planning across the UK and integrate this into all relevant plans and policies. “The Government has to date not heeded the CCC’s advice on the importance of this plan or on funding it adequately. This needs to change,” the report warns.

Richard Spencer, Director, ICAEW Technical Thought Leadership, said that adaptation had long been a poor relation to mitigation from a climate change perspective. “Across the profession – in business, in advisory and in local government - we need to start thinking about how we can make ourselves more resilient. And we need to think about this now.” 

Despite taking a lead on emissions reductions, many members in local authorities faced that stark reality that vast swathes of their housing stock had not been built with global warming in mind. Since the CCC’s last assessment 5 years ago, over 570,000 new homes have been built that are not resilient to future high temperatures.

Further resources:

  • From climate governance to climate reporting and sector-specific advice, visit ICAEW’s dedicated Climate Hub.
  • The Climate Change Committee’s advice to Government
  • The Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (CCRA3) outputs, including a comprehensive Technical Report, is available here.
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